This week, Arlene Gluck at the Hesperia Unified School District received a new application to open a charter school in California. One thing she knows is that it won't end up like California Charter Academy did.


In August 2004, CCA, the largest chain of charter schools in the state, shut its doors, meaning the families of thousands of students had to scramble to find a school for the 2004-2005 school year. In August 2005, the California Department of Education released an audit report, the result of a months-long investigation into CCA. The report accused officials at CCA and its for-profit subsidiaries of misappropriating $23 million in taxpayer dollars. (San Bernardino County prosecutors eventually filed criminal charges to $5.5 million in misappropriated and defrauded funds.)


In the wake of the shutdown and audit report, the state legislature passed new laws requiring more local scrutiny of how charter schools are run. Among the new provisions is a requirement that each local school district have a charter school liaison, who is responsible for monitoring charter schools in the district.


In the HUSD, that liaison is Gluck, the district's Director of Alternative Education.


"The very first thing I do [with a new charter school applicant], is I get to know the petitioner. I get to know their reputation. Do they have a passion for this project or are they in this for the money? And, you know, it comes out, we can really tell."


The new rules and regulations relating to charter schools also help out in that regard.


"I give them a big notebook I've made, and it's called 'So You Want to Start a Charter in Hesperia,'" Gluck said. The notebook includes all the applicable rules and regulations relating to running a charter school in the district. "It sends a message. It says 'we know the law, we're familiar with the law, and if you're here to bend the law, you ought to go some other place, because we're here and we mean business.'"


And not every would-be charter school operator gets their wish, at least not within the Hesperia Unified School District.


"A guy came to me with a charter, it was a very beautiful charter, an excellent charter. But he had very few students the first year and he said he was going to buy [handheld electronic books] for all his students," despite not having the finances necessary to do so.


"Right then and there, we knew he couldn't afford to do his charter and rejected his charter."


Gluck's site visits go beyond the legally mandated annual visits to each charter school in the district.


"I visit every month and I go to board meetings, and I know what's going on at our charters."


Financial documents for the local charter schools are scrutinized, both by in-house staff and an outside auditor.


"Our business people throw back a lot of reports and say 'this doesn't look right, why did you do this?'" she said. "And the truth of the matter is, when you have egregious stuff, it shows up."


And that level of continuing oversight by Gluck and others in the school district should keep Hesperia from becoming the home of a future CCA-style scandal, she said.


"I'm not sure any slick operator who could operate here could do it," Gluck said. "I think, with the oversight, I think that's the key to making sure things don't run amok and get away from us."


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.